Brand builders: how to be human in five easy steps

Humans beat dinosaurs every time.

Yesterday, rx our post about how American Airlines fired Mr. X – an employee who had the gall to (gasp) engage with a customer – generated a fair bit of engagement of its own. We were also shocked and pleased that our accompanying PowerPoint deck was chosen as one of the features on the SlideShare home page, cure with more than 950 views and climbing. “Wow, for sale ” we thought: “People are actually paying attention! Crap!”

How not to do it: the American Airlines approach to humanzing communications (image from

Why I said “Crap”

Because even though I’d spent an hour and a half yesterday morning putting the deck together, there were a few things I left off at the end – some important stuff about the difference between a) treating people and social media like a lumbering corporate dinosaur (American Airlines, that’s you), or b) like human beings (the un-American Airlines approach).

So we added a few thoughts to the deck, along with 5 simple steps you can follow to make your brand more friendly to humans. Please read on.

Surprised when corporations don’t act human? Don’t be!

Sadly, rumours of mass extinction have been greatly exaggerated: American Airlines isn’t the last dinosaur.

Thousands of others are lurking out there, hiding in hierarchical “Lost Valleys” around the corporate landscape. They’re scary, and they still have big teeth if you get close to them. And they roar, stomp, intimidate, and generally pretend with their pea-sized brains that they can throttle and control communications the same way they did (or thought they could) in the Jurassic era.

But the world has changed.

The new boss has arrived (and it’s us).

And the new masters of the planet have opposable thumbs. And emotions. And big brains. They talk to each other; they form families and tribes.

And they don’t even try to control the message.

Instead, they listen, and build the conversation in ways that are real, helpful, and yes human. Want evidence? You’re reading this aren’t you?

How to humanize your brand in five easy steps:

1) Don’t pretend to be perfect.

You’re lying. We know, because we’re human too. So don’t even bother faking it.

2) Listen (critically) to critics.

They usually see you better than you do. Then conscript the helpful critics as team-mates, or call them out if they’re just snipers.

3) Speak Human.

Because here’s a secret: nobody ever understood “Corporate-ese” in the first place. Just use normal people-friendly words, a helpful tone, and don’t brag about your big accomplishments / hard drives / pointy teeth. If it’s true, other people will say it. If it’s not, you’re just a roaring fossil.

4) Encourage your people to speak Human

But remember that many of your employees think that roaring and stomping is the only way to behave. Gently work with them to show a better way. Give them access to the right tools to speak to customers, and teach them to find the opportunities and boundaries for themselves (oh, and share that learning with everyone).

5) To clobber your competitors, be more human

And this is the great part: all this touchy-feely human stuff is the best way to win in the battle of the brands! So go on big guy: listen harder; be more lethally generous (thanks again Shel Israel); earn some Whuffie (thanks Tara Hunt) and build real human relationships with your customers, influencers, staff, and yes, even the competition.

And if you’re an airline but you’re not American Airlines, congratulations: you’re already ahead!

Click here to see the whole PowerPoint deck on SlideShare